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Intentional Interim Minister Rev. Kyle Harris's Page

August 2023 Caller Article

I am writing this article a couple of days ahead of the General Assembly of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the United States and Canada.  We will be gathering in Louisville, Kentucky around the theme:  “The Kindom of God:  Within Us, Among Us.”  So, by the time you read this, the Assembly will have happened.  Here is what I think will have happened: Disciples have been gathering for generations and will gather for generations to come.  However, they will likely not gather in the same way we have gathered for the last few decades.  COVID-19 changed that.  We now can gather more often online – less expensively than we can gather in person.  So, coming out of this Assembly will likely be a different vision for how/when we gather.  There will be plenty of discussion about the future with fear, anxiety, and maybe even confidence about what is yet to come will bring a new vitality to our gatherings.


What won’t change is our passion for gathering around the Table.  Since the days of Campbell and Stone, an open Table  has been important.  It’s important because we remember God’s activity in our lives and the whole world bringing limitless grace and wholeness to a broken world.  We remember and we celebrate our faith that God’s faithfulness will remain more powerful than the fear and anxiety that occupies our consciousness.


Sometimes, we let the fear and anxiety of the future distract our perception on what is real and what is fear.  In an article in the current issue of Christian Century magazine, author Martha Tatarnic talks about the concept of “ultrarealism.”  The concept of “ultrarealism” comes from long-distance running (uh, oh, here goes the pastor on his running kick again…) and what goes on in the runner’s mind.  Tartanic says, “Runners can easily undo their own efforts by worrying about what is coming next or wishing that things were different. Ultrarealism instead sees, accepts, and embraces what actually is. I might get freaked-out about my uneven breathing. I might feel despair about the spitting rain and how slowly the first mile seems to have gone when I still have 17 to go. But while these things about breathing and rain and mileage might be true, I can choose to note that, right here in this present moment, my leg muscles feel strong, the rain is refreshing, and I have the great privilege of being able to run. I can feel the discomfort but also recognize that not only am I not dying, not only am I safe and okay, but I am running and it feels good.”

 

Tatarnic goes on to apply ultrarealism to the church as we focus on the decades-long decline of the church, the societal change we lament, and the obsessive search for the one program that will fill our pews and coffers once again.  Tartanic continues,  that it is easy “to feel as if we are trapped in the hypothetical—never closer to attaining the picture of institutional healththat has been set for us by nostalgia or programmatic promise. It’s not just that these dynamics leave those of us in leadership wondering if there’s an exit hatch; it’s also that there is very

little that is compelling or life-giving about a church that is so obviously desperate and dissatisfied.” 

 

I wonder if a dose of ultrarealism about Central Christian might help us as we live in these days.  Our pews on Sunday mornings aren’t as full as they used to be.  There are no families with young children clamoring to take advantage of any programs we might offer.  It costs a lot of money to keep the buildings and property maintained, cleaned and cooled for use each week and the dollars don’t stretch as far as they used to.  But that is not the type of ultrarealism I want us to focus on.  Instead, I wonder if we focused on a church identity that believes the church to be the real, complicated, messy people who have found themselves gathered together and who have been met by the surprising power of God’s love.


Like the runner who finds herself breathing inconsistently in the drizzling rain who is  lamenting a slow first mile with 17 to go, the church  might realize that that is not what iimportant.  Instead, we, the church, feel good, there is still life in our steps, it feels good to gather on Sunday mornings, there are smiles and hugs every week, prayers are answered, the Bible is read and understood, songs of praise sung, and there is enough inspiration to get through another week.  When we focus on the idea that we still like getting together on Sundays, we need the support of one another, and life is better when we are together, we become a church, a collection of people (not an institution) that makes a positive difference in our community.


Yes, the General Assembly won’t be like years past and will likely be different in the years to come.  Yet, it will feel good to gather for worship, education, service, and fellowship in Louisville this week.  We will gather around tables of many shapes and sizes and we will gather around Christ’s Table to re-member, to receive grace, and to keep working for a better world.


Yes, Central Christian, Murfreesboro isn’t what it used to be and uncertain about what we might look like in the future.  But, we will gather to worship, study, serve, and fellowship with one another.  We, too, will gather around tables of various shapes and sizes in our life

together.  We will continue to gather around Christ’s Table to re-member, to receive grace, and to keep working for a better world.  When we focus on that reality, we aren’t in decline.  We are a vibrant force that makes a difference today and every day that life is ours.


I’ll see you Sunday, August 6.

Kyle

July 2023 Caller Article

I posted the following on my personal Facebook page on Sunday, June 18, the 27th anniversary of my ordination into Christian ministry.  It is a reflection on my years in ministry.  Since I am not friends with all of you on Facebook, I have decided to share this with you all in this way:

 

Today, Sunday, June 18 marks the anniversary of my ordination into Christian ministry in 1995.  Over the past 27 years in ministry I have had many profound moments like:

  • holding a newborn baby in the hospital and witnessing their growth into adulthood 

  • officiating the weddings of two generations of the same family

  • presiding at celebrations of life for saints of the church, both those I knew only through the eyes of grieving family members and those I knew for decades

  • burying people way too soon, like a 10-year-old who battled cancer and a 36-year-old who struggled with addiction

  • walking the final months with a Korean War and Vietnam veteran who had been exposed to Agent Orange

  • and, presiding at the funerals of members of my own family

 

I have been honored to be a part of family celebrations at weddings in various locations, including the Hotel del Coronado beach, a Revolutionary War-era house in Charleston, SC, and community parks.  I have had the joy of officiating weddings in 7 different states and members of my own family.

 

Ministry has taken me to serve congregations in Indiana, California, Tennessee, Kentucky, and during my time as a student in Colorado, Oklahoma, and Indiana.  I have led mission trips and service projects.  I have taken dozens of young people to amusement parks and water parks – I only lost one kid for a short time (it wasn’t my fault as it was my first day on the job at that church).  I have had many sleepless nights at camps, retreats, lock ins, and lock outs.

 

Memorable events and highlights abound, including taking a group of 4th & 5th graders to a Habitat for Humanity work site.  High school students served as my counselors.  The Habitat staff person was skeptical about letting the kids do anything, but in less than 2 hours, the back half of that house was demolished to the studs, cleaned and ready for the remodeling crew to do their work.  A few weeks later, that same group of students convinced a nature center staff member to put a snake around my neck and shoulders.

 

Ministry is filled with moments of sacred and profane, the profound and the mundane.  Ministers in congregations are treated with respect and, moments later, utter disrespect.  I have been called “Reverend” and irreverent.  I have been invited to lead in deep, life-changing moments and been cut deep and my life changed.  

 

Many people look at ministers and think, “I can do your job” and they might be right.  But ministry is not for everyone.  Congregational leadership is an exercise in exerting power in situations where you are powerless, in finding middle ground within a sea of competing ideologies, and leading people in a Christ-like manner who are more interested in following their personal Caesar.

 

It’s probably understating, but I believe the world in which we live today is more divided than at any time in recent history.  I’m sure that with the rise in claiming one’s individual rights, church folks seem to be more willing to sing Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down” than “They’ll Know We Are Christians by Our Love” in the face of disagreement and more apt to buy a defiant “Don’t Tread on Me” bumper sticker than one that affirms that we are, “Better Together.”  Inside and outside the Church, we would rather define ourselves by being the opposite of what we oppose instead of working to find common ground on which to build community, deeper relationships.  We live in an “either/or” mindset, instead of finding a faithful “both/and.”  It makes the job of a congregational minister more difficult, especially since the congregation is called to be a faithful model of what it means to live in community.  There are enough challenges and expectations heaped on congregational ministers without this current reality.

 

This morning, the Gospel Lectionary text in Matthew tells about how Jesus names the disciples and sends them out to do ministry in his name – preaching, teaching, and healing.  Jesus isn’t sending disciples to build anything, but to imitate what Jesus does.  I wonder if we have moved from “imitate Jesus” to “do it my way” because we have learned how to control people to maintain the systems, organizations, and structures that reflect our power more than they reflect God’s power.  At some point on our journey, we forgot how to preach, teach, and heal because the people paying our salaries were telling us to make them look and feel better about themselves.  

 

That “healing” part of our instructions is more about liberating others from the systems and structures that keep them locked away from full participation and full expression of love, grace, and humanness we all long for.  Giving sight to the blind, having the lame get up and walk, or curing disease is scary business to those who have been able to dismiss the blind, lame, and sick as “less than” to make themselves feel better.  Giving charity to those “less than” keeps the comfortable comforted and the afflicted in their place.  If the world were different, the powerful wouldn’t be so powerful.  

 

To continually articulate that vision and work toward that reality as people who seek to imitate Jesus makes people uncomfortable.  As humans, we naturally want to have our needs taken care of and need to fulfill our wants on occasion.  But, to some, that makes us unreliable and unfaithful – less than good enough to lead, less than good enough to set an example in how we might imitate Jesus.  Somehow, the grace we seek to embody doesn’t get extended to us.  We, ministers then, become the reason the Church is failing and has a crisis of leadership.

 

There is a lot of work to do.  The tasks are many and difficult – with very little support.  The work is great and the workers are few.  The tasks are human; the journey is sacred.  The expectations are absurd. In ministry, we reflect and embody the ministry of Jesus and live the life, death, and resurrection everyday.  The hope of another experience of resurrection fuels the fire to keep going.

 

Today, I reflect on 27 years of ordained ministry (another 7 as a student in ministry).  Maybe I have another 27 years to do this work, probably not.  I am grateful for this journey and the people who have blessed me along the way.  I am appreciative of the lessons learned and those yet to be learned.  I know, without a doubt, that the only way to do the work of ministry I pledged to do in my ordination vows is “With God’s help.”

 

I’ll see you Sunday.

Kyle


To continually articulate that vision and work toward that reality as people who seek to imitate Jesus makes people uncomfortable.  As humans, we naturally want to have our needs taken care of and need to fulfill our wants on occasion.  But, to some, that makes us unreliable and unfaithful – less than good enough to lead, less than good enough to set an example in how we might imitate Jesus.  Somehow, the grace we seek to embody doesn’t get extended to us.  We, ministers then, become the reason the Church is failing and has a crisis of leadership.

June 2023 Caller Article

Like any finished or presented project, there are always items left on the cutting room floor – to borrow a term from the film industry.  Sermons are no different.  There are always stories, biblical facts or insights, and paths of thought not shared.  Here’s a story that I didn’t share with you on Sunday, but I will now:

 

Pentecost Sunday marks a poignant aspect of church life – the giving of the Holy Spirit to the people who follow Christ.  I can think of many years that Pentecost was ignored (or at least unremarkable from any other Sunday) in the church I attended.  Yet, there was one congregation I served that really got into the spirit (pardon the pun) of Pentecost during worship.  In the weeks prior to Pentecost, a subset of the Worship Committee recruited a few individuals who spoke a different language to stand up in their pew and pray the Lord’s Prayer in that language.  At the appointed time in the service, 10-20 people stood up and prayed together the Lord’s Prayer in different languages.

 

The first time I experienced this, I was taken aback.  Yet, each time I was moved, as it was significant.  The sounds of different languages coupled with a familiar prayer helped me imagine what that day might have been like – each one understanding in their own way what was being shared.  The point of unity isn’t same-ness.  The essence of the unity of the Church is that the Spirit has given each of us gifts that we are to use as part of a whole community and your gifts and contributions are an integral part of what makes the Body of Christ whole.

 

As we go through the season after Pentecost – most commonly referred to as “Ordinary Time” – I don’t want to lose sight or sound of what the Holy Spirit is doing in the life of this congregation, individually and collectively.  One of the joys of being a pastor is that I am invited into many significant moments in the lives of individuals and families in the congregation.  Weddings, funerals, births, illnesses, transitions, and other meaningful moments are powerful parts of who we are and who we become.


This summer will be filled with opportunities to feel the spirit alive and at work in your lives.  I pray that you are open to the ways in which the Spirit is moving, bringing new life to your individual lives, this congregation, the whole community, our nation, and our world.


I’ll see you Sunday.


Kyle

May 2023 Caller Article

I have told you stories about my Uncle Ron before in my sermons.  He was a hard working, hard living, fun loving farmer/rancher/cowboy from northwest Oklahoma.  Uncle Ron had a vocabulary that matched his larger than life personality, had a few bad habits that made no attempt to correct in his life, and certainly enjoyed more than his share of an amber fermented liquid that was made from wheat, malt, barely, rye, hops, yeast, and water.  He was a sporadic church goer – more frequent than Christmas and Easter, but less frequent than every other Sunday.  Uncle Ron would not be considered a “model Christian,” but if someone had a need, he was always quick to meet that need.  With a rough exterior, people may have been intimidated by his demeanor, but to get to know him, Ron was as soft-hearted as they come.

 

When I preached the sermon for his funeral, two scripture passages came to mind:  Ecclesiastes 3 – “There is a time for everything and a season for every activity under heaven.” and Romans 8 – “(nothing) will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  Just how he lived his life, the sermon at Uncle Ron’s funeral reflected moments of great laughter and joy and poignant pain.  The God who loved Ron, whose image Ron reflected, is the same God who loves us and whose image we reflect.  

 

Life is filled with circumstances we create and circumstances that are beyond our control.  Yet, we, as Christians, are called to live out our faith as a calling in a way that makes a positive difference in the lives of others.  Often, this comes with personal sacrifices and/or consequences.   I was recently reminded that in living out a calling, there is a difference between good advice and good news.  There is a paradox that people will give you good advice that will make your life better in some fashion.  Yet, proclaiming and living the Good News of faith in Jesus, will often come at a personal cost.

 

In his book, The Paradoxical Commandments: Finding Personal Meaning in a Crazy World, author Kent M. Keith says:  

People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered.

Love them anyway.

If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives.

Do good anyway.

The good you do today may be forgotten tomorrow.

Do good anyway.

Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable.

Be honest and frank anyway.

People favor underdogs but follow only top dogs.

Fight for a few underdogs anyway.

People really need help but may not thank you if you do help them.

Help people anyway.

 

I have known a lot of people in my life who were similar to my Uncle Ron – an exterior that doesn’t match the interior. Yet, through Ecclesiastes we are reminded that life is filled with varied seasons.  Romans further reminds us that through our faith, we are never separated from God’s love.  

 

We live in a world that challenges us to live faithfully.  Being faithful to a calling to share Good News sometimes causes us to not follow someone else’s good advice. As a faith community, may we help one another to discern the difference.

 

I’ll see you Sunday.

Kyle

April 2023 Caller Article

As I write this article, Nashville, Middle Tennessee, and the whole nation are continuing to be bombarded with new information, details, and stories about the school shooting at The Covenant School in Nashville, a small Pre-K through 6th Grade Christian school located in Covenant Presbyterian Church.  It’s been 48 hours since it happened and it is all everyone is talking about, what local TV stations are broadcasting, and friends from all over the country are texting me about this week.


We are still trying to figure out how we feel.  We are shocked.  We are devastated.  We are hurt.  We are sad.  These feelings will not go away any time soon.  Yet, we are still called to live in these days – to find life in the midst of death, to seek light in the midst of darkness, to find peace in the midst of upheaval.  It is so close to home that we have to deal with these feelings.  We can no longer pretend gun violence in schools is someone else’s problem.


In all of the feelings we are experiencing right now, we are not surprised.  In 2023, the United States is averaging one school shooting a week.  Since 2020, gun violence has overtaken car accidents as the leading cause of death for children under 18 years of age.  There is no remedy to the problem of gun violence in America in the foreseeable future.  We have lost the privilege of outrage about gun violence affecting our children for the privilege of gun ownership rights.  This is our reality and we have created it.


Some of you may be upset with me for mentioning the need to curb gun violence while we are still in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy.  It doesn’t seem pastoral to take advantage of our emotions in these moments.  Honestly, it is not pastoral to keep putting our heads in the sand to not even try to have a conversation about reducing gun violence in our country.  Our lawmakers in Nashville and Washington DC don’t have any interest in doing anything about it.  So, it is up to us to show our leaders a better way to lead.


If you are interested in being part of a solution – at least a part of a conversation that might lead toward a solution – I would like your help in setting a table to find a place to start.  Central Christian Church serves as a microcosm of the disparate views about guns as our whole country has.  We are not of one mind on this issue.  Yet, we can come together to explore a place to start having important conversations about safety for our children and ourselves as we seek to live through these times.  This week is a dark Friday.  Yet, we are hopeful – our faith leads to affirm – that a bright Sunday morning will come soon.


I’ll see you Sunday.
Kyle

March 2023 Caller Article

A few years ago as a Lenten exercise, I read Adam Hamilton’s book The Way:  Walking in the Footsteps of Jesus and engaged a small group for discussion.  It was a good book and conversation that helped to illuminate parts of scripture that may seem ordinary or bland and brought out a deeper understanding of the texts.  In reading and talking with others we

explored the texts behind the text to see what else comes to light from stories that are familiar to many of us who have been in the church a while and have studied the Bible before.  


About the same time, I read an article by a friend and colleague in ministry, Rev. Mark Price.  In the article, he relayed a quote by Tom Ehrich that made a connection between

stopping by the sampler tables at Costco and the life of faith.  Ehrich writes:


“It is possible to approach faith as if it were a sampler. An hour of worship, a Lenten study group, a morning’s Habitat duty, an evening committee. Each sample has substance, each is offered as an invitation to go cheaper, but in the end, a circuit of sampling stations leaves one unfulfilled. . . . Seeking more proves to be a vexing quest, not because real food is difficult to find, but because sampling is so tempting—a lark, no cost—and staying longer so disturbing.”


Lent is a season in the church when we dedicate ourselves to prayer and study of scripture while walking the journey with Jesus to the cross and the empty tomb.  Our worship is a little different as we prepare for Easter.  We give just a little more attention to spiritual

practices.  I’m sure some of us will stay in one or more of these practices for much longer as opportunities are offered. But what exactly did Tom Ehrich mean when he suggested that “staying longer” is disturbing? He meant this:


“Serious mission work can render one unfit to resume normal life. Sustained study of scripture can confuse one’s religion. Anything that renews faith changes life. A sharing group will

illuminate hidden corners. Intense prayer calls everything into question.”


Faith as sampling is very tempting precisely because there is minimal risk involved. Faith as practice might well change us into, well, God’s people on a mission in our world. That’s risky business.  As we walk in the footsteps of Jesus, let us be willing to be changed, challenged, and fulfilled on this journey -- now, and forever.


I’ll see you Sunday.
Kyle

February 2023 Caller Article

Every day, authenticity takes a beating.  Deception rules our political lives.  Advertisers sell us something that does not do what they say it does.  Doctored Internet videos make us think something is real.  We see snapshots but create our own context for what we see.  Rules are constantly broken because the rule doesn’t apply universally.  People cheat.  People lie.  People scream loudly to get their way.  Aggressive people bulldoze less aggressive people.  How many times can I let my car’s warranty expire?

 

I know that there have been people who have cheated, who have lied, who have bullied, and who have scammed before.  I know that there are folks who have built their whole lives on lies.  Having a lack of authenticity about who you are, how you relate to others, and what you do will continue in our wider culture.  We just need to have our eyes tuned to what is real, what is authentic.

 

Each of us has things that we try to hide from others -- including our own selves.  Each of us has moments in our lives that we would like to keep quiet and hidden from others -- because if they knew the truth about us, there would be repercussions.  Maybe they would not like us anymore or the relationship would end.  Maybe we would have internal shame and project it onto every other person in close relationship.  Whatever the reason, we keep things hidden to keep others close, fearing that “if you really knew me you would leave.”

 

As people of faith, we can start changing that perception in our relationship with God.  There is no other relationship that is as authentic as our relationship with God.  God knows us deeply and intimately.  God knows our strengths, our weaknesses, our thoughts, and our intentions.  There is no hiding from God.  There is no hiding our authentic, true selves from God.  Psalm 139 is a beautiful testament to God’s intimate knowledge of us and God’s continued love for us.

 

You and I may not be able to come clean with everyone we meet, but we can come clean with God, trusting that God already knows and loves us and that God will not end our relationship.  In fact, God will pull you closer and be gracious.  Spend some time this week opening up to God about what is real, what is true, and what is most at the core of your anxiety, fear, and shame.  If you are honest with God, you will, in turn, begin to be honest with yourself.  You might even feel compelled to be that honest with your spouse or closest friend.

 

Authenticity will continue to be on the endangered species list for our wider culture -- it’s become too easy not to be authentic.  Yet, we can stop the spin cycle in our own minds and be honest with God.  It might open our eyes to what continues to be real and authentic in our relationships with others and leave us less susceptible to being a victim of a hoax, a scam, or a lifetime of lies.  Psalm 139 says, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts.  See if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”

 

I’ll see you Sunday.

Kyle

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